This 17.3-inch monster includes the latest 2GB Nvidia GTX 680M graphics and an Intel quad-core processor. We've always liked the M17x, so what's not to like about this fourth generation (R4) model?
The M17x first joined the Alienware lineup of gaming notebooks back in 2009 after Dell retired the original "Area-51 M17x" as its flagship model. Four years and three revisions later and the "new" Alienware M17x R4 continues to be the dominant player in the Alienware family of notebooks.
Build and Design
Design is just as important to an Alienware as performance. The chassis' angled edges are reminiscent of a military stealth aircraft. The M17x has an "AlienFX" lighting system with eight distinct lighting zones. The keyboard itself can have four distinct colors. Lighting themes and options can be changed using the Alienware Command Center software. Every time I review an Alienware, I spend an inordinate amount of time making themes. This is truly a unique setup.
The M17x is no lightweight, at almost 10 pounds and two inches thick, and the lid is also thicker than we are used to seeing. Build quality is solid; there's little flex found anywhere even though the M17x is made of mostly plastic. I like the rubberized "soft touch" surfaces of the palm rest and lid. The rubberized material is a departure from the original M17x (which debuted in 2009) that had anodized aluminum surface which is why this M17x R4 weighs a few pounds less.
Those looking to upgrade the M17x will have a relatively easy time of it; just two screws hold on the bottom access panel. There are two storage bays and two memory slots beneath. The M17x actually has four total memory slots - accessing the other two requires removing the keyboard, which isn't hard. Dell provides informational how-to guides and videos on removing the access panels.
Input and Output Ports
The M17x is brimming with ports including several video out and four USB 3.0 SuperSpeed. It even has HDMI in, which is useful for playing games from an Xbox or PlayStation on the M17x's display. The M17x has more ports than we've seen on any other notebook. All picture descriptions are left to right.
Back: Cooling exhaust vents, AC power jack
Left: Kensington lock slot, Ethernet, VGA, HDMI out, DisplayPort, 2x USB 3.0, S/PDIF, microphone, headphone/microphone combo, headphone
Right: Media card reader (top), slot-load Blu-ray drive (bottom), 2x USB 3.0, eSATA/USB combo, HDMI in
Keyboard and Touchpad
The M17x has a full-size keyboard with separate numeric keypad. The backlighting is second to none and the four quadrants of the keyboard can be changed to a different color making it look too cool. I like the keyboard backlight pattern too; not only is the letter itself illuminated, but also the edge of the key. The backlighting can of course be disabled.
The keyboard feels solid and has satisfactory tactile feedback. It's not my favorite keyboard to type on, but typing is a mostly encouraging experience. The keys have a somewhat rubbery feel which isn't a bad thing in my book. There is no appreciable flex and the layout is as expected with all the keys in the correct positions.
You'll also find dedicated media buttons located above the keyboard for commonly used features like volume control, movie playback, and a wireless on/off button. These are also backlit and adjustable using the previously mentioned Alienware Command Center software.
The Synaptics touchpad is appropriately sized for a 17.3-inch screen. It has a smooth matte surface and two physical buttons with excellent tactile feedback. It's good to see a notebook using a traditional touchpad instead of the increasingly common 'clickpad' where the whole surface is a button; the traditional setup works better in this reviewer's opinion.
Screen and Speakers
The 17.3-inch display has a glossy surface and 1080p resolution (1920x1080). It has satisfactory color saturation and great contrast; bright and dark colors really stand out. Viewing angles are so-so which is expected for a TN panel like this one; it's OK side to side but washes out from above and below after tilting the display 15-20 degrees. The 1920x1080 resolution is wonderful for entertainment and productivity alike and its the highest resolution available on a notebook PC (for now). This display has a large sheet of reflective plastic covering it, which looks great but acts like a mirror (any bright light sources behind you can be a problem).
The two stereo speakers located under the palm rest are made by Klipsch and sound much bigger than their physical size suggests. A full-sounding audio system is certainly appreciated on a high-end multimedia notebook like the M17x. These speakers have enough power to entertain a small room of people.
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